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Loop trip in and out of Seattle. Focus on San Juan Islands, National Parks and wineries. Includes a stay in Oregon at Cannon Beach and The Willamette Valley!
We are in our mid-fifties, love to hike, fine dine, picnic, peruse galleries, go wine tasting and stay in nice accommodations. This trip report would match up with a couple or 4 adults sharing the same likes!
Side note: We rented a full size car for 16 days with a $12 per day bid on Priceline with National (owned by Enterprise and affiliated with Alamo) Total was $390, no insurance, unlimited miles. Outside of the car (Chrysler Sebring, 20K miles) catching on fire on Orcas Island it was a great deal. National resolved the "problem" to our satisfaction and keep in mind they do not manufacture the vehicle.
Weather, weather, weather! Seattle and the environs of the Pacific Northwest are so beautiful because it rains a lot (90 inches annual at Mt Rain"ier"). Evergreen State? Hmmm? Our trip was from September 1 to September 17 with spectacular weather. This time period is the absolute best opportunity for realizing great weather and maximizing your enjoyment in the Pacific Northwest!
Our main impetus for this loop trip, to include the Willamette Valley in Oregon, was to experience more US National Park Treasures: Olympic and Mt Rainier. It also included a whole lot more with the San Juan Islands, Mt St Helen's National Monument, a tour of Seattle and plenty of wine tasting!
Side note: We went on a similar excursion to New Zealand for 15 days and at the end of this loop trip, we felt this "domestic" wonderland was better than our "fantastic" New Zealand trip. Bottom line it's the American people we met along the way that tipped the scales. We have traveled the globe many times, exchanging currency, learning new languages and experiencing different cultures. Being able to instantly talk about various areas in the US with other travelers, as well as hospitality personnel, is a real differentiating treat! PLUS we cannot emphasize enough how beautiful and unique the Pacific Northwest actually is.
Here is a Google map of the places we stayed and dined along the way on our counter clockwise route (paste in browser because Trip Lists do not support links or "words" longer than 25 characters)
tinyurl.com/STAY-DINE (paste in browser)
Here are the nights in each destination:
1 Nights = Anacortes (In route Boeing Plant tour, Whidbey Island & Deception Pass)
3 Nights = Friday Harbor, San Juan Island (Day trips to Orcas & Lopez Islands)
3 Nights = Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park (Day trips to Hurricane Ridge, Neah Bay & Ozette)
1 Nights = Lake Quinault, Olympic National Park (In route Beaches & Hoh Rainforest)
1 Nights = Cannon Beach, Oregon
2 Nights = Dundee, Oregon (Willamette Valley)
1 Nights = Castle Rock (Mt St Helens)
2 Nights = Ashford (Mt Rainier National Park)
2 Nights = Woodinville (Wineries and Seattle tour base)
Budget = Excluding airfare, our entire trip cost was $5,800!
Sea-Tac Airport to Anacortes
We stayed in Anacortes at the Marina Inn (highly recommend but no marina) and caught the first ferry in the very early AM the following day due to the Friday leading into Labor Day weekend.
Ferry Notes: Washington State ferries are extremely unique in the US. For a tourist, they are like a very scenic Disneyland ride. I would not want to use them on a weekly basis. The staging procedures tend to create anxiety about being left behind to wait for the next ferry. In Coupeville, our car was the last one on (thump, thump). You can easily buy all your tickets on-line before leaving on your trip. You must ONLY pay with a ticket when you travel east to west. For example, return from Orcas Island back to San Juan Island after a day trip.....PAY! The schedules are confusing at first but you will soon become an expert at reading them. The ferries, especially among the San Juan inter-island's will be a fun, memorable part of your trip!
Upon arrival at Sea-Tac we picked up our ill-fated buggy and motored to Mukilteo to catch the ferry to Whidbey Island. The ferry terminal is next door to Everett where the Boeing plant is with its tour (highly recommend). We took the tour (2+ hours) later on in our trip. But it was "out of the way" from Woodinville. You may want to take the tour before boarding the ferry.
Our first stop was in Langley for lunch at The Braeburn. The Braeburn was okay. Instead we wish we ate at the Prima Bistro on the second floor patio for the view of the sound. We really enjoyed the art galleries and wine tasting at Swede Hill Cellars.
Going to and coming back from Anacortes we were weather unlucky due to mist/clouds to explore Deception Pass (do not miss, quite impressive) In Anacortes we dined at Flounder Bob's (big mistake).
Hindsight is Golden or is it 20/20?!
Considerable time and ferry cost savings can be realized by catching the first Anacortes ferry 6:55AM and stopping at Orcas Island 7:35AM for a full day of exploration (Mt Constitution lookout, Moran State Park hikes, Doe Bay kayaking OR a drive up Mt Constitution and Orca whale watching charter (departs from Orca ferry terminal area around 11AM) and a nice breakfast at the West Sound Cafe, ale at Madrona Grill in East Sound). Then catch the 4:30PM (does NOT run Sunday & Monday) for a 5:10PM arrival at Friday Harbor! Orca Island deserves an overnight to comfortably fit in the activities. This recommendation is primarily made for those on a limited touring schedule.
We stayed 3 nights in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island which we highly recommend for its ferry location and restaurants. We found Roche Harbor to be too remote and a bit "staged". Our accommodation at Friday Harbor Lights with private dock was ideal. It is right on the water and a short par 5 away from the ferry terminal (zero noise). On departure day, we were first in line by parking at the first allowable time, then strolling back (5 minutes) to our accommodation. Discovery Kayaks is almost next door. The Rocky Bay Cafe is great for breakfast and Kings Market is a very well stocked store with a deli and fair prices for all your shopping needs.
Our 3 selected restaurants (BBQ Shack, Duck Soup Inn & Backdoor Kitchen) were missed because a couple from Florida gave us 4 large Dungeness crabs which we gave 2 to Barbara & Ed our landlords, who in turn gave us an unexpected pound of local water shrimp for another meal and our rental car caught on fire! The crab we thoroughly enjoyed at our picnic table with wine next to the water our first night (throw the cleaned shells right back into the water), the shrimp the second night after arriving late from the Orcas Island car mishap and a "bust" dinner (snacks) the third night after exchanging the new rental car back on Orcas Island. Really not that bad! Our only planned activity we missed was the Sunset Kayak tour with Discovery Kayak (stunning sunsets, this was a real missed opportunity)
Our first day tour of San Juan Island was terrific. Above "tinyurl" Title link displays our route. The Pig War history involving the English and American (hint: 2 "territorial" camps) settlers is fascinating. At English Camp from the parking lot do not miss the trail leading to the top of Young Hill. On our way to English Camp we stopped at the "adorable" Alpaca farm and bought a couple of alpaca woolens for the winter. After our less than grueling hike we enjoyed some ale on the deck overlooking the jam-packed Roche Harbor marina at Madrona Grill. We met our crab benefactors at Lime Kiln Point State Park (no orca sightings), then enjoyed some lavender ice cream at Pelindaba Lavender before walking to the lighthouse near American Camp at San Juan Island Historical Park (accessible via beach with some work. We walked the road to the lighthouse and the beach on the way back). Beautiful views of Olympic National Peaks with a filtered Mt Rainier in the distance. We picked up our crabs at the lakeside home our crab benefactors were renting. Yes a splendid day!
Next day Orcas Island
We primarily chose this island for the vista on top of Mt Constitution. We were not disappointed, simply outstanding! After disembarking on the first morning ferry we headed to Westsound for a great breakfast at the West Sound Cafe, then the drive up to the top of Mt Constitution in Moran State Park. There is a concrete lookout tower at the top and an expansive area to see Mt Baker and all the surrounding waterways as far as Canada. We then headed to an idyllic end of road "Doe Bay Resort (name only, not quite a resort)" by Doe Bay. The bay was beautiful and it appeared to be a great place to do some kayaking (no time). Then on the way back, we stopped at the Twin Lakes trailhead and did a wonderful hike (highly recommend, not a loop). Then we had terrific ale at the Madrona Grill in Eastsound before the meltdown!
Entering the Ferry on the downhill ramp our car burst into flames when the transmission blew and spewed fluid all over the engine block. We ended up taking the last ferry back to San Juan Island. The evening sunset was simply convention bureau magnificent and we missed our planned sunset kayaking with Discovery Kayaks. Stupid car interrupting our domestic vacation tranquility! Forbid!
Orcas Island Again!
Plan O. We made arrangements to meet a tow driver with our exchange car brought from Bellingham on Labor Day weekend......not easy to coordinate! Instead of our bike riding on Lopez Island, we booked a whale watching excursion with Orcas Island Eclipse Charters. The meeting place is right next to the ferry dock where we picked up our new buggy. It could not have worked out better. The 2+ hour whale watching trip took us 35 miles round trip to Canadian waters where we thoroughly enjoyed observing a bounty of orcas as they fed 200-400 yards offshore. This was probably much better than our planned bike trip on Lopez. Thank you Chrysler! I think??
Now being "veterans" of Orcas Island we went back to Madrona Grill in Eastsound for some more ale. This time we were able to peruse the galleries and shops which was quite enjoyable! We once again because it was the Sunday ferry schedule missed our sunset kayaking back on San Juan Island. A terrific excuse to return ASAP!
Leaving early on the first ferry from Friday Harbor put us in at the Olympic National Park Crescent Lodge for 3 nights around 4PM! Our route from Anacortes was to catch the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend (11:30AM), have lunch at The Fountain Cafe (fabulous, highly recommend) and tour around to see some of the very interesting Victorian architecture.
Then, outside Port Angeles, we began our wine tasting: First at Olympic Cellars (not worth the stop), then Camaraderie Cellars (beautiful setting, very good wines, personable staff and head winemaker) before checking in at Crescent Lodge. The next day, on the way back from Hurricane Ridge, we stopped in at Harbinger Winery. Harbinger is in an old metal industrial repair shop but we liked the wines enough to join the wine club. Part of our buying decision is we enjoyed the assistant winemakers generous pours and wry humor. Plus we had a great time with other patrons at the "Beach" (tongue in cheek, patio table and chairs in back parking lot area flanked by racked kayaks)
Wine note: 90% of all Washington grapes are grown in Eastern Washington, near Yakima. These wineries are processing vintners.
From the above tinyurl you can see the expanse of Olympic National Park. Effectively it is a "roadless" huge mountain range forming huge valleys that visitors travel around on a highway perimeter and drive UP to (Hurricane Ridge & Sol Duc Falls) or INTO (Hoh Rainforest & Lake Quinault)) its many beautiful venues.
We utilized terrific Park lodging, staying 3 nights at Lake Crescent Lodge (review below) and 1 night at Lake Quinault Lodge. The food was excellent in both locations. Although the lakeside setting at Crescent wins our overall vote! Early morning kayaking is surreal. We did eat lunch in Forks at a greasy spoon pizza joint. Forks is awful, do not eat in Forks, do not stay in Forks. Sorry Twilight fans! Stay out on the dramatic coast, like Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push, instead!
Observation: We were very underwhelmed by the "look" of Port Angeles! To be fair, we did not go to the "port" area. Lake Crescent Lodge is THE place to maximize your enjoyment while visiting Olympic National Park. The Roosevelt Cottages are worth every penny!
Here is a link to the various hikes:
nps.gov/olym/ upload/dayhikes.pdf (paste into browser, fix space)
We did several of these hikes on our daily excursions. ALL terrific and highly recommended! The boardwalks, rain forest vegetation and high canopied trees (Sitka Spruce, Western Redcedar, Western Hemlock, Douglas & Silver Firs) are unlike anywhere we have ever been, especially in the US. You must experience these hikes to know what we mean.#> Ranking of hike compared to others!
4> At Crescent Lodge (Marymere Falls, no time for Spruce Railroad (haarrumph next time)).
7> At Hurricane Ridge (Hurricane Hill and Klahhane Ridge) Great vistas (similar to Austrian Alps), just okay trails!
5> Beyond Neah Bay (Cape Flattery Trail = ends at furthest Northwest point in US) Well worth the scenic drive. Be sure to stop in Neah Bay to tour the excellent Makah Museum.
3> At Sol Duc Falls (very enjoyable 1 hour hike. Next trip, we will continue beyond the Falls into the back country)
1> At Ozette (Cape Alava Trail to beach, we returned and did not do 9-mile "triangle" along 3-mile section of coast to Sand Point Trail = Do not miss this trail and network of boardwalks)
6> At Hoh Rainforest (Hall of Mosses and Spruce Nature) 200+ inches of annual rainfall.
2> At Lake Quinault (Quinault Lake loop via Big Cedar trailhead across road from lodge with return along shoreline and campgrounds (fabulous))
Of note: Due to time we did not find our way to some of the beaches like Rialto. We did reach the beach from Ozette, enjoying the rugged setting. Also, we drove out to First Beach which was an "okay" setting. We have already spent a "tremendous" amount of time at many Pacific Ocean beaches and venues from Washington to Oregon to California to Acapulco, Mexico!
After our circle with radii of Olympic National it was off to the Willamette Valley in Oregon for a family rendezvous and guess what? Some more wine tasting! But first stop, Cannon Beach!
See review StrandsDanville
"The 3 Night Sampler!"
After our morning hike at Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National we enjoyed a long drive to Cannon Beach. The scenery along the way is mostly inland. However crossing the Colombia River at Astoria, OR stands out as a very scenic vista!
The town of Cannon Beach is high-end arts and crafts, fine dining and beautifully situated on the majestic Oregon Coast (understatement). We splurged and stayed at Sea Sprite on the Estuary in the Tide Pools Alive Studio 21 (whatever that means?). The view to the beach, our ability to prepare appetizers and then enjoy with wine on our balcony was needless to say idyllic. Plus it was Mrs Strand's birthday! For dinner, we chose The Irish Table (new restaurant at the time) from a recommendation by a local art merchant. It did not disappoint and we highly recommend it for your pleasure as well. Our table, oddly, was out front by the coffee house bar (day function of property) which we surprisingly liked. Typically for us this seating locale would not be acceptable. But we joked with the owner brothers while they worked. Although one brothers wife is the 5-Star chef in the back producing the "real" success of this establishment! Definitely give it a go!
Cannon Beach offers a great eclectic assortment of shops with various art mediums to peruse. You can tour the quaint town in 2-3 hours which is a real delight. Then finish the day with a long walk on the beach!
After this day and night for us it was off to meet family in the Willamette Valley!
Being from Northern California with its wine regions, we have always wanted to experience and compare the Pinot Noir laden Willamette Valley with regions in our own backyard like Napa and Livermore Valleys. So we approached from Cannon Beach, while Mom the Cougar and Step Dad came in from Central Oregon and Sis and Brother-in-law flew in from the Bay Area. We identified an absolutely terrific VRBO property http://www.vrbo.com/ 372606 (paste into browser, fix space) in centrally located Dundee! (our review is the first under WorldTraveler)
Here is a Google Map tinyurl.com/Dundee-Wine (paste into browser) of our central location, the wineries we visited and the restaurant Painted Lady in Newberg where we thoroughly enjoyed a fine meal and excellent service in our "own" upstairs dining room (other tables but they try to make it private by seating other guests downstairs)
Tasting fees add up (average $10), so we split tastings. We enjoyed a picnic the first day at Anne Amie (location B, nice view, not stellar) and at Lange Estate the second day (could be difficult to get table on small patio). You travel quite a bit on unpaved roads which add to the adventure but the wineries were all very nice. We were too late to taste at the wonderfully situated Archery Summit. There are so many to choose from. We had one small negative that Scot Paul featured too many imports.
We had a wonderful time. The rental property with its back covered deck, overlooking the distant vineyards, made for great evening and morning dining!
Bottom Line: This will be our one and only visit to the Willamette Valley (again it was fantastic). Our "luck" to be situated in Northern California (Danville), so close to hundreds of wineries in beautiful settings, might make for an unfair critique of the Willamette Valley wineries. The Napa, Sonoma, Alexander, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Livermore, Santa Cruz foothills and Anderson Valleys are simply second to none. For wine lovers, we highly recommend a tour of these locales! We have been to wine regions in Australia, New Zealand, France (Alsace, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone), Germany, Austria, Italy and of course Hawaii! Hawaii is obviously a really nice setting but the pineapple wine falls a little short! Although a Robert Parker 95 pointer compared to the papaya wine in Kenya! Joie de Vivre!
For us, it is back to Washington Mountains (one blown up) and of course more wineries!
We drove through downtown Portland on our way to deliver family at the airport. Naturally we stopped at Clear Creek distillery for some fruited spirits (highly recommend, no fee and some very unique flavors...Douglas Fir!) then at BridgePort BrewPub (great sampler) to taste the acclaimed Portland micro-brews, then a short walk to Jakes Famous Crawfish for a decent lunch (not a must try).
We stayed in Castle Rock, WA at The Blue Heron Inn a B&B (highly recommend). Of course it has a winery tasting room (Mt St Helens Cellars) downstairs (what establishment doesn't in these global viticulture times?) The breakfast cooked by Brenda was fantastic!
We then set off to explore Mt St Helens including a short hike and make our way to Mt Rainier National Park where we stayed in Ashford a few miles from the entrance.
Right across the street from the B&B is an excellent Mt St Helen's visitor center.....Silver Lake. The exhibits are outstanding and the short movie gives a terrific account with actual footage and interviews surrounding the detonation events on May 18, 1980!
After the visitor center we enjoyed the scenic 46 mile drive to Johnston Ridge Observatory operated by the USDA forest service. Here there is an observation terrace of the blown Mountain where rangers give informative talks. Inside there are more great exhibits and a terrific wide screen presentation that you do want to miss! Take a walk up the Eruption Trail: Paved trail with interpretive signs. The trail offers panoramic views of Mount St. Helens' crater, the pumice plain and blast zone, as well as partial views of Spirit Lake.
On the way back from the ridge (3-4 miles) we stopped at the Hummocks Trailhead. The 2.6 mile, moderate, trail takes you through hummocks (giant chunks of Mount St. Helens deposited by the May 18, 1980 landslide). It offers a close-up look at numerous wetlands and ponds, as well as excellent views of Mount St. Helens and the Toutle River. It is a LOOP route offering "okay" scenery. It is worth the mini-trek!
On the way back via Toutle we stopped at the Shell Station market and bought provisions for dinner (in-house butcher!) and our stay at the Deep Forest Cabins outside the gate of Mt Rainier National park.
See Mount Rainier below for our adventures in this marvelous National Park!
The drive from Mt St Helens to Ashford, where we stayed 2 nights in the Deep Forest Cabins, is somewhat scenic. Our cabin was the Mountain Home Log Cabin. It was secluded in the forest but you could see the road from the back porch.
The weather had become a little overcast and our start the next day was not as early as our "usual". We started with a disappointing breakfast at The Wild Berry. The food with a nice size portion was very good. But the service was awful. Hopefully just a bad day for the Nepalan owner? Later that evening we dined at Copper Creek Inn, where we found the food, service and ambiance just great (highly recommend).
We drove to Paradise along the extremely scenic road from the park entrance only 2 miles from the Deep Forest Cabins. Along the way we pulled off at scenic points, making sure to drive the one way Ricksecker Point Road and take a short stroll below Narada Falls to see the cascade above. In Paradise (5,400 ft elevation) where the Park visitor center is located we identified the Skyline Trail as our hike for the day.
Mt Rainier is absolutely beautiful. We were kicking ourselves for not allocating more time to the Park and for our late start. The hike to the top of Skyline Trail Loop was fantastic. The glacier, the mountain summit at 14,400 feet as the backdrop, an abundance of wildflowers in bloom in the meadows (rare for September) and the vista of the Cascades to include Mt Baker and Mt St Helens cannot even be adequately described. Just GO this is really something special.
Mea Culpa a Planning Mistake!
We "always" stay in National Park lodging (except unique Zion) to be where the action is. Staying in Ashford, although all good, was a miscue. Our redo, next time will be 1 Night at Paradise Inn at the 5,400 foot base with unbelievable views. Then continuing along the scenic highway around the mountain base 1 Night at Alta Crystal Resort.
We missed new pavement, new scenery and new hikes. Plus logistically we were headed to Woodinville which offered another scenic route from Alta Crystal!
tinyurl.com/Rainier-Redo (paste into browser)
The other irony was Ashford was overcast and misty during our stay. But Paradise was in bright sunshine. Hindsight is 20/20 but if you are trip planning you now have foresight!
See review StrandsDanville
Nearing the end of our fantastic loop tour of the Pacific Northwest, we left National Park mode and refocused on urban exploration with high-end food and excellent wine. The bounty of offerings between urban and nature are "almost" too good to be true!
We situated ourselves in centrally located Woodinville for wineries, downtown Seattle touring and a final day brunch at Snoqualmie Falls before taking the afternoon silver bird back to Danville!
We splurged and stayed at the Willows Lodge (review below) for 2 nights. The Lodge was terrific and well worth the price of admission. The deal "clincher" was the live evening entertainment in the Fireside Cellar. The wine tasting rooms in shopping center type outlets are all walking distance from the property (location, location). Plus Chateau Ste Michele and Red Hook Brewery are also next door in the other direction.
Unfortunately The affiliated Barking Frog restaurant (shares parking lot) did not come close to our expectations which were on the "fine dining" side. The Herb Farm (literally next door) is where "we" belonged. We dressed for dinner and the probable Microsoft millionaires at the adjacent table with their slovenly hanging out tee shirts around fat torso's did not cut it. The food was very good with sizable portions and the server really tried to make our experience enjoyable. After a few "discussions" with management, our entire meal was comped to include wine which absolutely exceeded our expectations. Split it and move on would have been more than fair! Our 2nd night we really enjoyed the Purple Cafe on the outside strip mall seating area (noisy inside) with no corkage fee wine and an excellent cheese platter. We had earlier appetizers and brew at the Red Hook Brewery (recommend).
Our Seattle tourist day started by parking (difficult) at Pioneer Square for the Underground Tour which we really enjoyed. Prior to the tour we took a long walk for a limited tour of Pike's Place Market (been before). We then drove to the base of the Space Needle for a walking tour to include the Sculpture Garden (pretty good). Then it was off to Everett, via Kerry Park and one last gorgeous city skyline vista, for a 3PM Boeing plant tour which we highly recommend. We saw the amazing "first" Dreamliner waiting to be delivered the following week. Quite an historic time for ushering in a new era of Flight by this simply outstanding company! We did not have time to see the unique Seattle Ballard/Chittenden Locks (alas)!
Trip note: We "should have" toured the Boeing plant our first day on the way to Anacortes with a late lunch in Langley. This would have given us more time in downtown Seattle. We then could of taken advantage of the "free" Metro 99 loop transportation, spent more time at Pike's Place Market and driven out to see the locks!
The next morning after checking out we took a very scenic drive through Redmond out to Snoqualmie Falls for an excellent brunch with a view at Salish Lodge. We strolled around the short length paths overlooking the falls while waiting for our pager to go off!
Then "home" via Sea-Tac International. What is really traffic convenient about Seattle is the 2 or more diamond lanes operate 24/7!
See review StrandsDanville
These Falls are far from spectacular. But the overlook area and connected paths are a nice setting and worth the time. Plus the drive from the Seattle area through the town of Redmond is pleasant.
We highly recommend enjoying brunch at the Salish Lodge at a window seat as part of your visit!
The Seattle Loop Summary
The Pacific Northwest is somewhat overlooked when it comes to National Park adventures. The caveot is the weather. But it is the weather that produces the extremely unique and stunning landscapes found in this expansive terrain. Early September, by far, are your best odds for maximum enjoyment. The other summer months require some Mother Nature luck, but the overall beauty will shine through many more times than not!
We feel the "must" part of the Loop needs to include The San Juan Islands and its orcas. When you add in 14,000+ peaks, glaciers, rainforests, an abundance of excellent wine and urban culture, you get an unparallelled experience to rival any other trip you might take elsewhere on the planet!